WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing titled “Better, Faster, Cheaper, Smarter, and Stronger: Infrastructure Development Opportunities to Drive Economic Recovery and Resiliency.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing today, and a special thanks to all of our members and their staffs for producing a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill that was reported unanimously out of our committee one year ago this month.
“Let me begin by noting that as we meet here today, the House is debating a broad infrastructure bill of their own this week that includes drinking water infrastructure, energy infrastructure and broadband. The cornerstone of that bill, however, is the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s surface transportation legislation. With the anticipated adoption of that bill, perhaps even later today, the House is poised to move closer to joining us in reauthorizing our nation’s surface transportation programs, which are set to expire this fall. I’m sure we all welcome their progress.
“Now, with the surface transportation reauthorization bill moving in the House, it’s time for the Senate Banking and Commerce Committees to develop their own bipartisan titles so that a truly robust surface transportation reauthorization bill can come to the Senate floor in the months ahead. The American people are counting on us to get this done. We can’t let them down.
“Every member of our committee knows that America’s transportation infrastructure is essential to our economy, to our society and to our way of life. The more than four million miles of roadway and 600,000 bridges in this country are essential in connecting us to commerce, to services and—most importantly—to one another. Unfortunately, across this country, many of those same roads, highways and bridges are in desperate need of repair.
“Whether you’re driving an 18-wheeler truck hundreds of miles a day on interstates across the Heartland, or hitting pot holes on your way to work or the grocery store, just about every driver in America will agree that our surface transportation infrastructure needs work. A lot of it. While some roads simply need repairs or repaving, others need to be rebuilt or completely redesigned. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 20 percent of our federal-aid highways are in poor condition, as are some 46,000 bridges.
“For decades, we have invested in surface transportation infrastructure as a country without making meaningful progress toward improving safety, reducing harmful emissions and enhancing resilience. And now, we face a growing climate crisis that will only make those challenges even more daunting.
“Last week, some of the coldest places on Earth experienced an historical heat wave. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Arctic Circle for the first time in recorded history. Think about that! 100 degrees! And earlier this year, on the other end of the planet in Antarctica, temperatures another record, reaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
“With historic heat waves reaching the coldest corners of our planet, 2020 is on course to be the hottest year in recorded history. Moreover, we’re being told that the forecast for this year’s hurricane season may well set new records, too, raising serious concerns all along the Atlantic Coast and throughout the Gulf Coast.
“And speaking of the Gulf, one of our Republican colleagues from Louisiana volunteered to me last week that sea level rise continues to worsen in his state, too, where they’re losing roughly a football field of land a day to the sea. You’ll recall that a year ago, the target of Mother Nature’s fury was the Midwest, where torrential rains and catastrophic flooding brought havoc to many farming communities, delaying planting for a month or more.
“Further west, in places like California, Nevada, Oregon and Utah, communities are still reeling from last year’s wildfires, some of which were bigger than my state. And now, out West, they’re preparing for another dangerously hot and dry summer season.
“These extreme weather events are happening more frequently, pushing the National Flood Insurance Program ever further into the red and damaging our infrastructure to the tune of hundreds of billions – not millions, billions – of dollars each year. And as global temperatures continue to warm, ice caps melt and sea levels rise, scientists tell us that the record-breaking heatwaves, devastating hurricanes, catastrophic floods and drought-fueled wildfires we’re already witnessing throughout the world aren’t likely to get better. If we don’t get on the stick, as my grandfather used to say, they’ll only get worse.
“Now, having said that, I understand that some of our colleagues are interested in talking about the importance of streamlining today, and it’s important to do so. As we pivot to streamlining, however, let me ask that we keep in mind that only one percent of federal highway projects require the most complicated type of federal environmental review.
“When Chairman Barrasso and I, with the help of our staffs, first began our work on America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act nearly two years ago, we learned that Congress has passed more than 60 streamlining provisions all told in the last four transportation bills, even though, I’m told, the most detailed environmental reviews are needed for about only 1 percent of federal projects.
“In ATIA, we address streamlining needs in part by focusing on how to make existing processes work better. In doing so, we demonstrate that it’s possible to facilitate important projects without forgoing environmental protection. That’s a win for all of us who use America’s roads, highways and bridges, and it’s a win for our planet. Where I come from, we call that a “win-win” situation! We need more of them!
“Some of our colleagues know that I’m fond of quoting Albert Einstein, who once said, “In adversity lies opportunity.” God knows we face plenty of adversity these days – pandemics, tens of millions of Americans out of work and the list goes on. Having said that, there’s opportunity here if we’ll look for it and seize the day.
“That’s what our committee did last summer under the leadership of our chairman John Barrasso. We led by our example. We didn’t wait until the last minute either. A year ago, we unanimously approved ATIA, our bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill that would make an historic $287 billion investment in our nation’s roads, highways and bridges. We then said to our sister committees --- Banking, Commerce and Finance – we’re doing our job on EPW, it’s time for you to do yours.
“Is ATIA perfect? No bill that I’ve ever helped write has been perfect, but this is legislation that we can be proud of, even as we work to make it better in the days ahead. Coming from the lowest lying state in the Union, I’m especially proud and grateful that our bill includes the first-ever climate title in a transportation bill in the history of the Congress, investing $10 billion over the next five years directly in programs and policies that will combat climate change by reducing emissions and improving the resiliency of our transportation networks and infrastructure.
“ATIA invests nearly $5 billion over five years in a new resilience formula program available to all states, as well as a competitive resilience grant program. These new “PROTECT” grants would support projects across America that reinforce, upgrade or realign existing transportation infrastructure to better withstand extreme weather events and other effects of climate change.
“ATIA also harnesses the power of Mother Nature by establishing new eligibilities for natural infrastructure, like the marshes and wetlands that protect our roads and bridges from storm surges, in the National Highway Performance Program and the Emergency Relief program.
“Mr. Chairman, let me close with this. A lot has changed in the world since we first reported our surface transportation reauthorization legislation nearly one year ago. The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed our lives and, tragically, taken nearly 130,000 American lives.
“Just as we as all of us have been compelled to adjust and adapt to a “new normal” in our everyday lives over the last several months, we as a nation need to face the facts of the climate crisis. With our bill, we are beginning to do so. We need to keep it up and, while doing so, we need to build and rebuild a surface transportation infrastructure of roads, highways, bridges and transit systems that is, once again, the envy of the world.
“With that, I look forward to our conversation this morning and to the work ahead of us to make America’s infrastructure better, smarter and, truly, stronger. Thank you.”